The National Crime Agency is clear that if social media companies apply end-to-end encryption without careful consideration, children will undoubtedly be at risk and some of what offenders say and do will be beyond the reach of both law enforcement and the tech companies themselves. In fact, last week the head of MI5 also voiced his concerns about this issue.
While I understand the importance of protecting individual privacy and personal cybersecurity, experts are clear that end-to-end encryption can allow criminals an unacceptably high level of protection from law enforcement. Tech companies have a responsibility to ensure their services are not used for illegal purposes and I urge the sector to work with the Government and law enforcement to find solutions to this issue. I was pleased to see the Government’s Online Safety bill introduced for Parliamentary scrutiny. I fully support stronger regulation of tech companies through a statutory duty of care to their users. I have been vocal about the role of the Internet in facilitating crime and spreading violent messages for many years and I have taken direct action to mitigate these harms.
My Countering Violent Extremism programme teamed up with Google.org to deliver the £800,000 shared endeavour fund for London’s first ever grant fund for civil society projects that counter extremism and radicalisation. Many of the projects this delivered to thousands of Londoners last year raised awareness and built resilience to online harms. Through my Civic Innovation Challenge, I have partnered with the police and Raven Science to create and pilot the iREPORTit app, a new anonymous public referral tool for online terrorist content. Through this pilot, the app has increased referrals to the police by 15%.
I do not underestimate the importance of privacy and strong cybersecurity, but we know online platforms are being exploited to plan crimes and spread harm. These challenges require whole-of-society solutions and I will continue to play my role. But tech companies must do their bit for public safety by ensuring their platforms hinder criminals and protect vulnerable people.
The good news is the Government is already doing a lot of this. When [The Rt Hon] Sajid Javid [MP] was the Home Secretary, he went to Silicon Valley doing exactly what you want me to do. [The Rt Hon] Priti Patel [MP, Home Secretary] has built on that work. I am more than happy to amplify that work, work with the Government, but just to reassure you, roles are reversed where I am praising the Government, but the Government is doing a lot on this. We want to work with the Government on this. We do our own engagement and we pump up the volume our own way. We do not have the power the Government has, but I will carry on doing my bit and working closely with the Government. I can reassure you there is no danger of me reducing the sound of the volume.
Did you read the article in The Times that Mr [Neil] Basu [QPM, Assistant Commissioner, MPS] wrote? He wrote on a number of particular pertinent issues. The other thing he said was he advocated for events saying he continues to battle the toxic perception and asks where the senior leaders are coming out about their safeguarding responsibilities. Did you agree with that as well?
Yes, Neil and I readily discuss this. Prevent is the only show in town and that is why it is really important. It is not perfect, but we have to make sure that we stop young people in particular, who may be vulnerable, being ‘brainwashed’ by either charismatic orators or by others who are brainwashing them. By the way, we are seeing this on the extreme right as well, about vulnerable young Londoners being brainwashed. Prevent is not perfect but it does a good job in addressing the issue of extremism and violent crime and we will continue working closely with the police. The way to think about it is as a safeguarding issue. If you think about it as a safeguarding issue, would you not step in if you saw a young person being groomed by a sexual gang? That is the way to think about it. We have to do a lot more to get the communities confident in this. I do not want to be flippant and say ‘rebranding’, but whether it is having examples of successful Prevent interventions or others, but Neil Basu is spot on in relation to the importance of this.
In my answer to the question you asked, Tony, I did talk about some of the work we are doing around countering violent extremism. World-leading stuff by the way. The app has been really welcomed by the police because you have seen more people report things anonymously. We are also doing really good work with - I mentioned - Google.org. The point is they should be able to spot some of this stuff taking place online. We were particularly concerned during the COVID lockdown where you were seeing a reduction in physical activity but an increase in online activity. Therefore it is a big challenge for us - and you know this as well as I do - we are a global city that is a target for terrorists and extremists. We have to be resilient and vigilant at all times.